Category Archives: animals and language

Quothing the Raven by Patricia Karamesines

Photo of common raven courtesy of National Park Service
Photo of common raven courtesy of National Park Service

This post is an excerpt from my unpublished book, Crossfire Canyon and the Landscape of Language. I published a shorter version of the chapter in 2007 on the blog Times and Seasons. I’ve added material and developed my thinking about the intersection  of narrative and truth, posing questions about what our responsibility may be when we tell a story that deeply affects people–especially when the story isn’t strictly true, but people who read or hear it feel that it must be.

Winston Hurst
Archaeologist Winston Hurst

Early in the summer of 2007 I visited Blanding resident Winston Hurst, a longtime friend from my archeological field school days back in the 80s. Winston is an esteemed archeologist in the Southwest and a man of science. We were discussing Craig Childs, who was coming to Blanding’s Edge of the Cedars State Park to promote his book. I had met Craig in the 90s at a writing workshop he’d led in Torrey, Utah. The first time I read Craig’s work—it was The Secret Knowledge of Water—I  thought, Here is a writer I can learn from. I’d taken the risk to travel to the workshop, even though leaving the household whose atmosphere depended on the state of my special needs daughter Teah and on the whims of toddler Val left husband Mark with his hands full.

The experience proved well worth the risks to my household’s teetering domestic balance. Craig told our little group—all women—that it was his first workshop. At one point we met in the wonderful stone house, still a work in progress, of a local resident. To make memorable his point that we should all carry writing journals when we’re out traipsing, Craig set a pile of his own journals in the middle of the floor and told us to each choose one and find a quiet place to read it. I happened to pick the one that contained dialogue that would later appear in his book, The Way Out: A True Story of Ruin and Survival.  The dialogue occurred between Childs and his river guide friend, Dirk Vaughn, who used to be a cop. It involved Dirk’s statement that he’d killed a man. Continue reading Quothing the Raven by Patricia Karamesines

Review: Arrival 2016

2017 Arrival Poster*Spoilers Alert*

First off, I’d like any film that nudges viewers toward thinking about language and its effects on events, the environment, and relationships past, present, and future. Arrival’s got “events” and “relationships” covered, and, by extension, “environment”, so I like it. *SOAP BOX ALERT*  Lackadaisical attitudes toward language are common. Many folks don’t think about language much at all, despite how, when threatened, they quickly move to weaponize it when they feel threatened. Moreover, since a meaningful percentage of the population gets its information from movies and other media rather than peer-reviewed scholarly articles on language and linguistics, I’m good with casting language in a leading role in a semi-popular film. *END SOAP BOX BLURB*

We also have funny ideas about language, including that it impedes real communication. Charles Taylor discusses one angle of such thinking in The Language Animal, the theory that, ideally, language should just name things in the world with constraints on usage to enable precise communication—no funny business like metaphor, symbol, etc., which some literalists believe renders discourse into Keystone Kops ineptness.

For a taste of Keystone Kops, go here.

Taylor makes a good case that this idea of language still influences beliefs about human powers of articulation (unduly, he says). Arrival may in fact put the “language as precision tool” concept to work, since very few nods to metaphor’s powers of transport occur in the movie. It would be nice if the black-and-white nature of instrumental language could have been expanded a little, but that’s probably asking too much. Many people know language mainly as a tool for getting done what they want, even as they complain about its exactness.  In blame-the-messenger fashion (including in language Global Mall Facebook), laments abound over how language fails to live up to expectations then betrays us; ergo, it’s faulty.

But to the movie. Arrival is a cryptic thing on several levels, including its

Continue reading Review: Arrival 2016

The year of the fox by Patricia Karamesines

Red Fox public domain

From July 2010 to December 2013, the two years following Mark’s stroke and brain surgery, he struggled to regain lost cognitive and physical ground. The hemorrhage occurred in the back of the right hemisphere of the cerebral cortex in an area of the brain that supports eyesight. During the stroke he lost more than half of his field of vision. On the day we figured out that something momentous had occurred and I rushed him to the hospital, he cocked his head to his left side, like a bird, to see the doctor and nurses. We caught the stroke too late so some of the vision loss became permanent. The change in his vision disturbed him most at night when the house turned foreign. Every little object on the floor or crease in a rug transformed into a confusing and dangerous obstacle. Continue reading The year of the fox by Patricia Karamesines

Surprise Possession by Karen Kelsay

mixy lizard

She spends her afternoons beside the tree,
where Mr. Lizard’s made his home. Last week
she caught him in her mouth, and forcefully,
my husband pried him out. She doesn’t seek
this reptile, or a patterned, scaly prize—
just itches for a thrilling chase. For days
she’s turned into a sphinx. Unblinking eyes,
and breath held in her breast. Her mind’s ablaze
with thoughts of how he was in her possession.
He watches from the wall where he’s protected.
They play their waiting game. No intercession
at dusk is needed. She comes inside dejected,
and marches to the house to scheme and plot.
Tomorrow she will have another shot.

__________________________________________________
karen Bio Picture
Karen Kelsay, native of Southern California, is the founder and editor of Kelsay Books. Her poetry has been widely published in magazines and journals. Nominated five times for the Pushcart Prize, she is also an award winning poet. Her latest full length book, Amytis Leaves Her Garden, was published in 2012, and received the AML award. Karen lives in Hemet, California, with her British husband.

Photo of the poet’s cat, used with permission.

The happen stance by Patricia Karamesines

800px-Japanese_-_Fuchi_with_Hunting_Hawk border added
Fuchi bowl (Japanese)

This is a rewrite of an earlier post published here on WIZ.

One dark night in January of 2010 Mark and I made a last minute run to the only grocery store within 22 miles. On our return trip home, I drove with the SUV’s highbeams on, because we live on a rural road where, even in winter, we’re likely to come across a wide variety of animals on the pavement, anything from cats, rabbits, deer, mice, coyotes, and foxes to neighbors’ loose horses and cattle. In spring and summer, the variety of animal-on-road is even wider.

As we arced along a curve, the vehicle’s lights splashed against something moving on the road. A small cottontail had emerged from cover, probably looking for something to eat at the road’s edges where the unusually heavy and long-lingering snow had melted back from the asphalt’s edges.

“A bunny,” I said. The rabbit hopped straight for us and I slowed down. As the vehicle edged to a stop, we saw another flash in the headlights, high up in the air to our right. A great horned owl dropped out of the darkness into the swath of our headlights, swinging its talons out toward the rabbit, working its wings to correct its aim.

“Whoa!” we both said, surprised by the sudden drama. The cottontail feinted right, seemingly away from the owl but still heading toward the car. The owl hesitated midair, quite possibly blinded by our headlights, then tumbled to the ground a good two feet off its away-running target. For a moment, the bird sat on the roadside, staring after the rabbit. It looked like it was considering giving chase but, glancing at us, seemed to decide the risk wasn’t worth it. The opportunity had passed. With another flash of wings, the big bird lifted away into the darkness above the highbeams. Continue reading The happen stance by Patricia Karamesines

The Sky’s an Ocean, As All Eagles Know by Mark Penny

Birds_in_flight

The sky’s an ocean, as all eagles know
Who plumb the splendour nest to keel,
A craze of very ships in fleets that flow
On voyages forbidden whale and seal.
Its currents race, chained to the planet’s turn,
Churned by the jilted passion of the sun,
Exacting fervor from the veil-eyed fern
Mured in a pillared abbey like a nun.
Fleet immigrants, protesting falling leaves
And roofless perches, clog the trackless ways,
Pursuing passion while the bosom heaves
Of all creation in its fit of days.
The sky’s an ocean, leaping shore to shore.
So says the urchin on the ocean floor.

________________________________________________
For recent work by Mark and additional links, go here.

Photo “Birds in Flight” via Wikimedia Commons.

Ice Walking by Mark Penny

Beaver_dam_in_Tierra_del_Fuego

A nameless beaver sprang the trap.
Must have swum through it on his way up shore.
The two dogs, Jax and Cleo, crouched in their winter coats,
Gripped and pulled,
But the snare held,
Jealous of its prey.
I found them:
Red paw prints in the savaged snow,
Scrabbling blindly at the brink.
They parted for me.
I freed the carcass.
Primate hands
Dripping intelligence,
Carried the trophy to the pen
I’d built
To keep the collies off the goats–
The neighbour’s goats.
I threw the carcass down.
The dogs converged,
Patience and awe giving way to greed.
I watched awhile,
Then turned to human things.

There were two dams below the house:
The calf-deep creek
Bloated to drowning-depth in two black ponds.

Nights with a flashlight, brimstone eyes
Cruising the surfaces.
The still woods bristled:
Gnawed-off stakes,
Brute remains of silent-rooted trees,
Victims of mammal industry,
Torn bones
Woven in muddy, water-rotted domes.

Winter falls.
Green shapes yield to strangling ash,
Thicken and round out.
Water stills.
I try my foot on the narrow creek.
It holds.
Two feet.
I step.
I stop,
Listen for shifting,
Feel the seams,
Shuffle another pace or two.
All still.
All whole.
The dogs and I
Walk the half-glowing road
Onto the pond,
Ears up,
Knees bent,
Ingrown eye scanning the scratched slab,
The wind-laid pavement.

Now each breath
Savors its passage through the lungs
Upward,
The sky,
Rampant with icy lights–
And tall between,
Lone man
Gaping
As he breathes.
______________________________________________________________
Mark Penny has published with WIZ, and won last year’s Admin Award in the Spring Runoff. He was a finalist in the Goldberg’s “Four Centuries” competition in 2012. He recently founded “The Lowly Seraphim,” an “e-collective” for speculative Mormon fiction.

Photo “Beaver dam in Tierra del Fuego” via Wikimedia Commons.

Patricia reviews Adam’s Tongue by Derek Bickerton, Part Two

Part One here.

This is a GREEN LANGUAGE post.

Adam's Tongue cover1

New kid on the block niche construction course-corrects the previous scientific proposition that evolution is a one-way road: “Adaptation is always asymmetrical; organisms adapt to their environment, never vice versa” (Bickerton quoting George Williams, p. 92).  The niche construction light switched on for Bickerton when he attended a conference where niche construction theory co-founder John Odling-Smee spoke on the idea. An avowed skeptic of “new theories,”  Bickerton became a quick convert, snapping up niche construction and building it into his developing theories of language evolution. Here, in Bickerton’s words, is the gist of niche construction theory:

…animals themselves modify the environments they live in, and … these modified environments, in turn, select for further genetic variation in the animal. So a feedback process begins, a two-way street in which the animal is developing the niche and the niche is developing the animal, until you get the lock-and-key fit between animal and niche … (99) Continue reading Patricia reviews Adam’s Tongue by Derek Bickerton, Part Two

Patricia Reviews Adam’s Tongue by Derek Bickerton, Part One

As with most of the books I review that I like, this review runs on and runs wild. So I had to divide it in two. This is the first part.

This is a GREEN LANGUAGE post.

Adam's Tongue cover1

Title: Adam’s Tongue: How Humans Made Language, How Language Made Humans
Author: Derek Bickerton
Publisher: Hill and Wang
Genre: Non-fiction (mostly)
Year Published: 2009
Number of Pages: 286
ISBN10: 978-0-8090-1647=1
Price: $16.00

Every once in a while I see a write-up about a book in a newspaper or on a news site, and I get a hunch. Sometimes, I can barely figure out a thing about the book from the review, the writer snarls everything up so nicely. Or else she hypes sensational aspects of the text–soundbites of bad taste. Or she might have a sense that there’s something to the book but spends most of the article head-scratching. Yet, despite her loose grip on coherency, something shines through her writing like light around the edges of a closed door, and I think, I must have that book! Lightning of this sort struck when I learned of Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods. That work proved an important addition to my admittedly stunted array of recent acquisitions. Likewise John D. Niles’ book Homo Narrans: The Poetry and Anthropology of Oral Literature. My hunches about these books proved spot on: Both contained rockin’ language that I didn’t know I’d been looking for ’til I found it.

This hunch-come-true happened when I stumbled on a review of Derek Bickerton’s Adam’s Tongue on a pop news site. From the article, I couldn’t make out a clear picture of the book’s inner workings, though the word “language” flashed up frequently during the discussion. The writer seemed preoccupied with Bickerton’s attitude, which he classified as “irreverent,” among other things. But shining around the edges of the writer’s opacity were shafts of light that struck my eye, which is always roving, rooting for new thinking on human language. I printed off the review and set it on the edge of my desk, where I looked at it again and again, studying, thinking, hungering. “I want this book,” I finally said to my husband. “Then you shall have it,” he replied and straightaway ordered it.

It didn’t disappoint. Like other recent classics exploring language evolution, Adam’s Tongue makes bold claims right off. Human language, Bickerton poses, is the greatest problem in science. “You don’t believe that?” he asks. Continue reading Patricia Reviews Adam’s Tongue by Derek Bickerton, Part One